Weak carrier marketing is one reason agents have not flocked to real-time agency-carrier transactions, according to industry sources. "Only a handful of carriers have actually told their agencies these services are up and running," says one source who wishes to remain anonymous. "I get phone calls every day from agencies saying, 'A field rep was just at my office and he didn't know anything about this.'"Carriers haven't publicized their capabilities widely, in part, because they view them as a competitive advantage, says Rick Gilman, vice president for ACORD, Pearl River, N.Y. Although ACORD is making efforts to track carrier initiatives, a comprehensive list of all carriers and the types of real-time transactions they provide does not exist.
Another cause of agents' moderate response is technology overload, others say. Despite the fact that these interfaces typically take less than 30 minutes to set up, many agents are not technology-savvy. Others are skeptical because they've received too many promises about technology solutions that haven't been kept.
"The typical agent is bombarded with vendor and carrier technology, and they're trying to make a living selling and servicing policies," says Chris Garson, agent business IT leader at Progressive Casualty Insurance Co., Mayfield Village, Ohio. "This IT stuff helps, but it's also noise that gets in the way."
Still, convinced that the industry is moving in the right direction with real-time capabilities for agents, ACORD, the Agents Council for Technology, agency management system vendors and their user groups are now making a concerted communication effort to encourage agents to sign on.
For example, ACORD is recruiting agents to join its standard-setting process. It is encouraging carriers to continue implementing ACORD-standards based transactions. And it is telling agents to "use it or lose it."
"Agents have been promised a lot of stuff for a long time and it has never really happened," says Steve Anderson, president of American Insurance Consultants, Nashville, Tenn. "Part of the message (to agents) is: This is not really where we want to end up, but these are baby steps. And all these baby steps that we're taking toward true real-time interaction between business partners really does help."
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